A Publication of WTVP

Consider these 10 tips to gain management support for your training initiatives.

Education and training is important not only for the current health of our organizations, but for future survival as well. However, gaining support for training initiatives can be challenging. It can be frustrating to procure that support, but ultimately, upper management decides the extent of training their organization is willing to provide.

It is easy to place blame on upper management for lack of support for training initiatives, but some of that blame has to be shouldered by those of us trying to market (or sell) a new training initiative. As someone who has experienced both sides of this issue, I’ve come to the realization that there are some key points to consider when attempting to gain support:

  1. Speak the language. The reason most programs or initiatives aren’t supported—training or otherwise—is that the marketers don’t understand the language. The benefits of training are not always immediately visible, but the expense is readily seen on the organization’s profit and loss statements. The late Philip Crosby, former quality vice president of ITT, said that money was the language of management (e.g. managers talk about money, making more money and not losing money); therefore, you must demonstrate value through a return on training investment (ROTI). A general “rule of thumb” is that training should return at least 3:1—for every dollar spent on the training initiative, the organization should return three in efficiency and/or effectiveness.
  2. Connect the dots. You should make an explicit link between your training initiative and the organization’s strategic plan (vision, mission, goals, values, etc.). If your training initiative doesn’t support the plan then there is little reason why management will support your training program.
  3. Gain firsthand knowledge. Often, the reason management does not support the training effort is because it doesn’t address the real problem. Before investing a lot of time and effort, conduct a detailed needs assessment. Shadow workers to gain firsthand knowledge of the reasons for poor performance. Talk with various managers to understand their bottlenecks and frustrations, and pay attention to what’s being said. What is really needed to help improve operational performance?
  4. Develop allies. Work to establish key managers as allies. Establish partnerships; develop and deliver training that complements and extends—but does not replace—the efforts of management. Your training initiative should be seen as supportive of their efforts. Many of these managers will be part of the ultimate decision to decide the fate of your initiative.
  5. Be credible. Don’t overpromise by making commitments you can’t keep or deliver. For instance, if a company doesn’t have a documented quality system, don’t imply that their system will be ISO 9001-certified in three months. (It generally takes nine to 18 months to achieve ISO 9001 QMS certification.) It’s always better to under-promise and over-deliver. Once your training initiative is approved by upper management, follow these steps for course design and to gather support from mid- to lower levels of management.
  6. Avoid fads. While it can be enticing to develop a course around an industry “craze,” that can be a minefield and leave the root cause of the issue unaddressed. One organization had a change deployment problem and asked their internal training consultant to create a training solution. This professional developed a curriculum for “out-of-box” thinking around Spencer Johnson’s book, Who Moved My Cheese?. While the training was cute and unique, it failed to address the root cause and was destined for failure because it delivered no real solution.
  7. Solicit management input for course design. It’s not enough to interview management in the needs assessment phase, as in point three above. Managers have specific needs they want addressed during the course rollout. One influential middle manager who was interviewed by internal training consultants early in the due-diligence phase had no opportunity to make recommendations during the course development. After reviewing the final material just before deployment at his facility, he was so irate he refused to spend his resources in what he anticipated would fall well short of addressing the real problems the training was designed to correct; therefore, his people weren’t exposed to the training.
  8. Provide management orientation. If training developers expect their initiative to succeed, they must procure middle-management support. Arrange to meet individually or in small groups to discuss the objectives openly and provide an overview of the training program. If this isn’t done, course developers and training departments can expect resistance. Ultimately, these managers will decide success or failure for your initiative.
  9. Encourage managers to participate in the training. It is popular for training consultants and developers (especially internal ones) to convince senior managers that the training is more effective if done by middle and lower-level managers. Some of these initiatives work, but many are ineffective for a variety of reasons. Mostly, they fail because managers aren’t training experts, and they feel uncomfortable being placed in that situation. Training should be left to the experts, but management can be effective as keynote speakers or addressing specific, targeted topics. For instance, a company providing leadership training would do well to have middle or upper management serve as modular speakers (not course material developers or primary instructors). Managers can bring about instant credibility to the initiative. They also become dedicated to helping the learners, as well as the training effort, succeed.
  10. Involve managers as critics. Managers should be involved in the post-mortem completion and evaluation process. Lower-level managers should be asked to acknowledge that the training has occurred. Establish them as final assessors and provide them with the proper tools to support that role. As part of the assessment, they should be asked to describe how the new learning is being used, list any concerns, and document what benefits have occurred. This analysis should be openly shared with the organization.

Although following the above steps won’t ensure success, it does provide a general framework for getting support for initiatives such as training programs. iBi